Some of the stories about the early days of The Sex Pistols are as well known as that tale of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the nativity and the visiting of the three wise bears. (Kings, surely?-Ed.)
For example, we all know by now how John Lydon was spotted wearing a Pink Floyd tee-shirt with “I hate” scrawled across it, how he auditioned in Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s shop SEX by singing along to Alice Cooper’s “Eighteen,” or how Steve Jones propelled the group into national infamy on teatime television by calling local news channel host Bill Grundy a rude word:
Jones: You dirty sod. You dirty old man!
Grundy: Well keep going, chief, keep going. Go on, you’ve got another five seconds. Say something outrageous.
Jones: You dirty bastard!
Grundy: Go on, again.
Jones: You dirty fucker! [Laughter from the group]
Grundy: What a clever boy!
Jones: What a fucking rotter.
Ah yes, some of these stories are so well known they’ve become part of the furniture of modern pop culture. So pull up a chair and have a seat. When that infamous interview happened in December of 1976, the PIstols’ manager Malcolm McLaren feared the band had blown their one chance at fame. How wrong could he have been? The next day (of course) the front page of nearly every tabloid newspaper in England featured the Pistols with headlines raving on about “the filth and the fury.”
From that forth, the Sex Pistols were never ever out of the news again.
Yet, here’s the thing—the very first words ever written about the Pistols in the MSM actually appeared in the New Musical Express a year before the Grundy show incident in the December 27, 1975 issue of the New Musical Express, in a review about a student ball.
Peter Gabriel scrubs up nice: The NME when its writers were good.
The Pistols were just seven weeks old and had played only three gigs when they appeared at the “All Night Christmas Ball” at Queen Elizabeth College, Kensington, London, on November 27 1975. The Pistols were on a bill topped by the likes of Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames, Mike Absolom and Slack Alice. It was in a review of this all nighter by NME staffer Kate Phillips that the Sex Pistols were to be given their very first media name check.
“Oh, yes,” says the Social Sec, “and then there are the Sex Pistols. You missed them.”
“Were they any good?” I asked brightly.
“They played for expenses,” he countered.
The Sex Pistols were huddled against a far wall of the dance floor. They were all about 12 years old. Or maybe about 19, but you could be fooled. They’re managed by Malcolm, who runs ‘Sex’ in the King’s Road, and they’re going to be The Next Big Thing. Or maybe The Next Big Thing After That. Meanwhile, we drank a lot.
It’s been long assumed that the first mention of The Sex Pistols came from a review by Neil Spencer of the band’s Marquee gig in February 1976. Now we know different.
Journalist and author Paul Gorman who first unearthed this little barroom fact also notes:
Phillips was accompanied to the Queen Elizabeth College event by her partner and NME assistant editor, the late Tony Tyler (who was also with Spencer at the February 76 gig at The Marquee).
In the “On The Town” section on page 27, it was tucked beneath the lead review by Chris Salewicz of a Birmingham gig by the briefly popular hard-rock outfit Mr Big (headlined: “A yob in a support band is something to be.”).
Phillips started her column-and-a-bit thus:
“I was there for six hours and I can hardly remember a thing. It must have been a great party. Looking back it was meeting the Sex Pistols that started my downfall…”
She also wrote:
“I was soon in no condition to meet the rugger student who reeled over to our little island of determined hipness.
‘Why is your hair so short?’ he burbled. ‘I mean are you in a gwoop or something?’
I warmed to the man. He had taken me for a Sex Pistol!
A jig band came on. The students broke into the Gay Gordons.
‘What a monstrosity,’ muttered a Sex Pistol gloomily.”
Criticised that day on the bus by my then-girlfriend for my absorption in the music paper, I packed the issue away but kept hold of it, understanding even then that halfway down page 27 of that week’s NME, Phillips and Tyler had stumbled across the future.
So, there you have it. These then are the very first words, the very first first drops from which a deluge of salacious copy would follow.
Continues after the jump…